Posted in English, Europe, Italy, Naples

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Naples

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The transfer to Naples also started with quite a bit of a hassle. The first contributors to this were the Ischian hotel personnel. Not only couldn’t they figure out how to fill out our check-out documentation, demanding our fiscal codes, which of course, we’d never had, they also messed up our transfer – having made us pay a tidy sum for it, they sent us to the taxi stand on foot, promising to take the care of our luggage and have some hefty chaps deliver it to the same taxi stand in 10 minutes. But as 10, and then even 20 minutes passed, the luggage still did not appear anywhere in sight. Even the frail elderly driver – the one who had driven us here when we just arrived – started getting nervous. We called the hotel reception – just to hear the deadpan response that the hefty chaps were just about to leave the hotel (!). Goodness, we only had half an hour before the ferry departure, which was almost as long as necessary to get to the port in Forio! We also had a terrible suspicion that we would need to spend a lot of time to buy the tickets, but fortunately, the driver had already bought them. This somewhat smoothed out the situation, and we made it to the ferry.

The Neapolitan part of the transfer took place without incidents. But the hotel, quite frankly, surprised us – the entrance to the promised historical palace was through some dilapidated gateway, leading to a tiny elevator. But for every negative there is always a positive: it turned out that the rooms booked for us were being renovated, about which we had been notified via email – too late, though. Therefore, we were kindly moved to another hotel of their chain, a better one, and, most importantly, with a much better location – in particular, the tour bus stop was just around the corner.

After a nice lunch in a small trattoria (we had Neapolitan fried pizza – at least some diversity!), we rushed to the bus.

Surprisingly enough, initially we didn’t perceive Naples as too much of a coveted place to see. We were even saying that if our next day’s flight to Rome hadn’t been so early we would have had time to catch the very first boat directly from Ischia and would not have needed to move to Naples. How very wrong we were! Naples is an amazing city, with magnificent palaces and stunning views of the Gulf of Naples. However, our Amalfi tour guide Lena had been right in saying that it was a city of great contrasts: you can easily see piles of garbage, chipped walls, fluttering laundry – and then, just round the corner, a palace and a park of exceptional beauty. So, we happily rode the tour bus to the sounds of great Neapolitan songs – such as ‘ A Serenata ‘E Pullecenella, Marechiare, Piscatore’ E Pusilleco, and of course , the most famous one O Sole Mio.

Naples

Naples

Naples

Gulf of Naples

Naples - Castel Nuovo

Naples

As usual, our tickets were valid for all the routes, and we had the time to take two out of three: to historical sites and along the coast. And there were so many tempting places we could have visited if we only had had more time: the Aquarium, all those palaces and museums; even walking on those streets a bit more would have been lovely. Not only is the city beautiful, but it also has some sort of a special spirit and charm, so Naples became the truly magnificent completion of our trip to southern Italy, and even gave it a special meaning.

Naples

Naples

Naples

Naples

Gulf of Naples

Gulf of Naples

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Posted in English, Europe, Ischia, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Ferragosto

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As we were planning our trip, we had no idea that we would have a chance to see a big holiday of Ferragosto on August 15. This day is celebrated everywhere – particularly, every hotel arranges a feast for their guests. Those restaurants that are not closed, also host parties. Of course, it would be absolutely foolish of us not to participate.

We were treated with very good live music – it was basically kind of a concert of old and new Italian hits. The food was really good as well and consisted of an aperitif with appetizers; assorted antipasti (ranging from ordinary bruschetta to exquisite oysters); pasta for entrée (spaghetti with seafood and ravioli ); a main seafood course (swordfish and king prawns) and a large variety of traditional pastry and fruit for dessert.

By the way, speaking about pasta for starter – this is not the know-how of our hotel. We were surprised to find out that the local cuisine (i.e. southern Italian) was totally devoid of liquid dishes, and meals very often start with pasta. Even the so-called mussel soup, popular in local menus, is essentially steamed mussels with a very small amount of liquid at the bottom.

Ferragosto Food

Ferragosto

The dinner ended with magnificent fireworks: right over our heads at 11pm, and then – somewhere in the distance at midnight. On this cheerful note, we said goodbye to Ischia – Naples awaits us tomorrow.

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Posted in Amalfi Coast, English, Europe, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Amalfi Coast

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The “cool” guy despising group tours seems to have jinxed us. At first everything went very normal: the bus punctually picked us up at 5.15am, while it was still dark, collected other participants of the Amalfi Coast tour from their hotels and delivered all of us to Ischia Porto, where we boarded a ferry. In Naples we were met by a tour guide with a Baltic accent, and got on another bus.

Ischia Porto

I must say that Naples hadn’t made much of an impression when we arrived from Rome, but, as we drove through it, Lena the tour guide spoke of it with great passion. She was telling us about its status of the capital of the kingdom, its magnificent palaces neighbouring with sunless narrow streets with colourful linens hanging on the balconies, just like in the movie La Ciociara.

We drove out of Naples, past Pompeii and Herculaneum. Here we were told that everything around was pretty much sitting on a powder keg – there are lots of extinct and dormant volcanoes, and also the active Vesuvius. It erupts every 60-70 years, and the last time was just 69 years ago. Thus, on the one hand, the next eruption is anticipated with fear, but on the other, it is awaited, because the longer the interval between two eruptions, the more destructive disaster it turns into – for example, the eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD occurred after 300 years of inactivity. However, people continue to settle right at the foot of the volcano with careless perseverance: the climate is too favourable and the soil too fertile for these places to be left. Officially construction within a radius of a few kilometers from Mount Vesuvius is prohibited. But people here seem to live with the if-you-mustn’t-but-want-to-do-it-then-you-can-do-it principle – especially that the law does not permit to destroy the buildings, even at the stage of one wall built only, and only makes the owners pay a fine of 20-30k euros.

Heading to Sorrento

At this point already we noticed that the traffic was very slow on our side of the road, we were basically in a traffic jam. But Lena suggested that this was due to tomorrow’s holiday of Ferragosto and had to do with everyone flocking to the resort coast. The reality was much worse: and we had the chance to fully appreciate it, as well as the “evil eye” of the New Russian, when we entered a two-kilometre tunnel. Here the column of vehicles literally froze, although the opposite lane was absolutely empty. We spent exactly an hour and a half in this tunnel, and the whole way from Naples to Sorrento took us a good four hours, while it barely should have taken 90 minutes. The people in the bus got extremely frustrated, the most radical ones were demanding to turn around, get on the opposite lane, return to Naples and get the money back, but this was absolutely impossible, because there was no opportunity to turn around, and besides large buses are allowed to move in only one direction along this coast. The most impatient ones left the bus at the exit of the tunnel, as the situation outside was no better, and walked around to stretch their legs.

Our tour guide talked to the Carabinieri driving past us, and found out that a terrible fatal accident had happened somewhere ahead and a funeral car was already heading there. Why it took almost two hours for the Carabinieri to get close to the scene remained a big question to us. And anyway, even to us (not quite knowing the intricacies of the case, of course) it seemed pretty logical that the traffic in the tunnel should have somehow been regulated in order to avoid such a disheartening and unsafe congestion in it.

It seemed that the whole tour went awry. However, the situation was saved: Lena promptly got in touch with their “headquarters ” and agreed that we would be allowed to board a different ferry at a different, nearer port an hour later than initially planned, which therefore allowed us to save an hour, and then one more – by cancelling the set lunch planned originally and giving the tourists an opportunity to eat on the go during town walks. And finally, exhausted, but happy, we returned arrived in Sorrento. What can I say, it is indeed a very beautiful town. We were told that it had been visited by Gorky (again!), Feodor Chaliapin, Sylvester Shchedrin. Everything here is all about lemons and olives – lemons reach monstrous proportions (up to two kilograms) and have a distinctive flavour, the whole town smells of them! The mountains slopes are covered with olive trees, with rows stretched underneath them. We were told that the olives for the best first press oil must be collected directly from the tree and not from the ground, which is virtually impossible to do manually on steep slopes – and that’s where those nets come in handy!

Sorrento

Sorrento

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are considered traditional wedding places for couples from all over the world. We saw an English wedding, with guests walking on the streets and taking photos.

The views here are just so breathtakingly beautiful, in the truest sense of the word! In general, a drive on the mountain serpentine feels, to put it mildly, quite exciting. The bus is driving on a narrow ledge along the cliff, at a height of up to 300 metres above sea level. The road, however, had not always been there – it was constructed by Mussolini. Prior to that, people used to walk on foot or ride donkeys on the mountain paths.

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

IMG_6689

Despite the fact that these places are declared heaven on earth (it’s even said that righteous Amalfians will return home after death), life is not that comfortable there. Of course, it probably is for Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida, who own luxury villas along the coast, as we were shown, with helipads and elevators that can take them right down to the beach. For ordinary mortals, though, every simple thing turns into a difficult issue – they have to walk a hell lot of steps (and I mean that – really a lot!) every time they want to go to the beach or to work. If you ask someone where they live, they will tell you the number of the step rather than the street name! And imagine them having to do something more serious, such as painting the house! That’s what they do in this case: a van brings a couple of donkeys to the closest possible place, where the specially trained animals get loaded with buckets of paint and rush up the stairs.

Rock Looking Like Virgin Mary with Flowers

Amalfi Coast

We didn’t get to visit the very beautiful town of Positano, although we did fully appreciate the view over it from the observation deck: pink, white and yellow houses, literally built into the rocks. Very picturesque, but it looked even more inaccessible and impractical.

Positano

Positano

Positano

Positano

Positano

Another town where we didn’t stop either – Praiano – is less well known than Positano. It is interesting that the traditional Christmas nativity scene includes the model of the town itself. This is the ending point of the Christmas procession on December 25, carrying a miniature figuring of Christ the child. We drove past this model and had the chance to take a look.

Amalfi, despite being so celebrated, looked to us like one more replica of the previously seen towns. It is famous for the majestic Cathedral of St. Andrew, where the relics of the aforementioned saint lie. Lena was persistently urging us to see them but honestly we weren’t too enthusiastic about this idea, even though the cathedral was really very beautiful from the outside.

Amalfi

Amalfi

Speaking of holy relics: it appears that in the Middle Ages they were extremely fashionable and prestigious to have in any city, so they were then subject to barter in the best case and theft in the worst. The relics of St. Andrew appeared in Amalfi as a result of the latter actually. Sometimes they would steal not only whole relics, but also parts of them. Robbed monks were ashamed to admit being so careless, therefore, they would replace the missing parts with fake ones (surprisingly, these fake relics still went on working wonders!), and as a result, a saint could end up having three or four arms or legs.

Thus, the walking tour around Amalfi did not satisfy us, but the boat trip along its coast was very pleasant, allowing us to see all these magnificent mountains, bays, hotels and villas from the sea. We sailed in the direction of Maiori, Minori and Ravello, where our bus arrived to pick us up. By the way, on top of all the transportation troubles we had had, the bus somehow managed to hit a parked car when manoeuvring to enter yet another busy tunnel, so while we were happily enjoying our sea trip, the driver had to deal with the frustrated owner of that car.

Minori

Ravello is a small town located even higher up the cliff. We didn’t go up there, and only saw it from aside, while listening to our guide’s comments about Wagner festivals that are held there and are so popular that tickets must be booked almost a year in advance.

The town of Ravello is also a proud owner of relics – this time those of Saint Panteleimont, and every year on the day of his execution the Saint, as if to demonstrate his full consent to be in this place, arranges a miracle – liquefaction of his blood. A similar miracle, but with even more rapid boiling of the blood, is arranged by Saint Januarius, the patron of Naples. It is very important for Neapolitans, as a pattern has been traced: if the blood liquefies duly, the Vesuvius does not erupt during this year and any other ills also bypass Naples. Therefore, on this day – namely September 19 – all Neapolitans are very nervous and can’t wait for the coveted event. To guarantee it happening for sure, the oldest old ladies are sat in the first row in the cathedral (who are jokingly referred to as the “relatives of Saint Januarius” for their age), and start praying to the saint. Then, if the miracle is delayed, they switch to exhortations – gently at first, then more and more angrily until they literally end up swearing. Instead of taking offense, the Saint, either stimulated by, or scared of such attitude finally performs the long-awaited miracle!

The last town of the Amalfi coast was Vetri Sul Mare, and rounding the hill, we saw the city of Salerno in the distance and hurried back to Naples, to get to the port. On the way back, Lena told us that the Neapolitans were very superstitious , believed in destiny and tried to find signs in any event for the game of bingo . In every house there is a booklet that translates any unusual event into the language of numbers. Lena said half-jokingly, half-seriously, that upon returning home she would check that little book and find out which numbers corresponded to a traffic congestion, a corpse on the road and other events that happened to us today, and then place bets on these numbers.

Vietri Sul Mare

Posted in Europe, Ischia, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Baia di Sorgeto

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Whoop whoop, it finally happened – the bustling Larissa’s efforts overcame the passivity of the Italian side: they managed to find the tour operator conducting tours in Russian, and its representative came to our hotel to provide all kinds of guidance to its Russian-speaking  guests.

A small group of the latter gathered in the pool area, dominated (or at least, so he thought) by a man from St. Petersburg, with traces of heavy drinking on his face, not speaking any foreign language, and trying hard to show everyone how rich and cool he was: he expressed the desire to have only individual tours, was only interested in Michelin-starred restaurants and said something like “One should use a choke chain on the tour guide, to make sure they only do what you tell them to do”. His aspiration for ‘separatism’ was actually quite convenient for us, as this specimen would be extremely unpleasant to be around on any tour. His wife, by the way, looked quite simple and seemed to feel uncomfortable with her husband’s statements.

As a result of the conversation with the representative of the tour operator we got vouchers for a tour on Wednesday, and also learned about the Sorgeto bay located right here, near Sant’Angelo, and Le Fumarole beach located on a volcanic basin, heating the sand up to a hundred degrees centigrade. It sounded, though, like all you could to at Le Fumarole was baking potatoes and eggs in the sand, so we decided to abstain from a trip there and visit Sorgeto. As we were explained, the beach there pretty much consisted of natural stone beds with trickles of thermal water at 90-100 degrees Celsius flowing into them from under the ground. Combined with sea water, it results in overall temperature of around 35-40 degrees.

We took a water taxi to Sorgeto. The sailing was very pleasant, and we saw the “Elephant” rock on our way. However, Sorgeto itself, where we had been even encouraged to go at night, did not impress us that much: it was basically a jumble of huge boulders, looking scary to even step on (to us, at least), and even more so to try to lie on – it seemed absolutely impossible. Therefore, we returned to Sant’Angelo on the very next taxi.

Can you spot the elephant?

 

Baia di Sorgeto

 

Posted in Europe, Ischia, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Ischia Porto

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All this sightseeing is nice and interesting, but who said one shouldn’t be shopping when abroad? We’d been thinking for ages how to do it, and were first planning to travel to Naples, but then realised it would take us two hours to get there and two more to get back, especially that the opening time of the shops wasn’t very clear. Due to summertime many places here are closed from 1pm till 4pm, working a little in the morning and till midnight in the evening. And besides, August is the month of holidays, culminating on August 15 , the holiday of Ferragosto, which is an ancient pagan festival of the sun and harvest , adapted in Christianity as a day dedicated to the Madonna. Therefore, the working hours of shops (if at all? ) were under big question.

As a result we compromised . We had already mentioned that in general shopping in Sant’Angelo is virtually inexistent, so we were taken to Ischia Porto, the “capital” of the island. We were told that under the order of Mussolini each Italian city should have its own Via Roma, that is the street of Rome – usually it is the main street with all the shops concentrated on it. Ischia Porto is no exception . We arrived there at 6pm, and the street was crowded . However, we saw very little brand shops as such – most of them, just like in Sant’Angelo, contained a hodgepodge of several items by various brands. Still, after walking along the street till 10pm, each of us ended up with some new clothes .

The taxi driver, which was supposed to take us back to our hotel, told us that the price was not negotiable, but would rather be calculated based on the meter. We were pleased with the idea of not having to pay 40 euros this time. Well, indeed, we didn’t have to – the meter counted 60! We tried to argue, but the driver’s reply was that this was the night fare. Why 11pm had to be considered as night already – is an altogether different question, but arguing any further was simply pointless.

Posted in Europe, Ischia, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – La Mortella (Ischia)

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From time to time we are promised that a Russian representative of some travel company will come to the hotel to “tell us everything” and organise a tour. But we do not believe in anything any longer and try to entertain ourselves as much as we can. Having gone through the available booklets, we decided to visit the La Mortella gardens.

These gardens were planted by an Argentinian gardener who was the wife of the famous English composer Sir John Walton. They settled in Ischia in 1949, and, for the inspiration of her talented husband, she created the lower garden, full of the most rare plants from all around the world, including the giant Amazonian water lily Victoria amazonica, a leaf of which, as we all remember from our school books, can easily hold a month-old baby (dedicated to those lilies is the Victoria House, where water pours into a pool out of a  the ‘bocca’ (mouth) bas-relief); the Chinese paper tree, lotus, bamboos, Araucaria , bromeliads (that’s all I could remember, although there were lots more).

La Mortella - Bamboo

La Mortella

La Mortella

La Mortella

La Mortella - Lotus

La Mortella

La Mortella

La Mortella - Victoria Amazonica

La Mortella

La Mortella - Lazy Cat

The upper garden was created after the death of Sir Walton , in his memory. He is buried right here (and so is Susana – his widow, who died later and who is referred to as the soul of the garden). Clambering up, we saw the Greek theatre , a pool with a bronze crocodile, the Temple of the Sun, the Thai pagoda and a concert hall, where they show a documentary with Lady Walton herself talking about the garden. We did not watch it all, but caught the moment where Prince Charles of Wales was admiring her replicated version of the Victoria House at Chelsea Flower Show in London.

La Mortella

La Mortella - Thai Pagoda

La Mortella - Templa of the Sun

La Mortella - Temple of the Sun

Posted in Capri, Europe, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Capri

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We got our Capri trip almost with a fight. Poor Larissa was really struggling to arrange it for us, but all her efforts met a “brick wall” of the complete apathy of her Italian colleagues. Her requests were passed from one to another, delayed by half an hour, then by another half an hour, and it looked like the trip was about to burst like a soap bubble, when finally, totally desperate, she explained to us how to get there pretty much on our own: take a taxi, then board a boat and then find a tour at the port. She didn’t possess any maps of Capri or guide books, so just had to draw some directions using pen and paper.

Ischia

Ischia

Forio

The boat took about an hour to get to Capri. Fortunately, the day was more or less cloudy, and there was a delightful breeze at the top deck of the boat. We boarded it in Forio and sailed around the whole Ischia, stopping to pick up passengers at all the Ischian ports: Lacco Ameno, Casamicciola and Ischia Porto.

IMG_6481

Larissa had promised us that there would be Russian-speaking tour guides chasing tourists right at the port, but we didn’t want to entrust ourselves to chance and signed up for the Italian/German/English language tour offered directly on board.

Having got rid of this concern, we immersed ourselves in observing other passengers, and were not generally too impressed by their looks. There were quite a lot of sweet couples, gently kissing and hugging, however some of them seemed just plain unattractive. The men looked like a mixture of Julius Caesar with Danny DeVito or Savely Kramarov and the women looked sloppy, scruffy, ready to become coarse in a few years – I’m not trying to be mean here, but you just so imagine them in hair rollers and robe, yelling at their screaming kids!

For reference – the area of the Capri island is four times smaller than that of Ischia, making a total of ten square kilometres. The island is essentially a limestone mountain (as opposed to the volcanic Ischia), so it doesn’t have beaches per se. There are only two towns here, the lower one being Capri, and the higher one is called Anacapri. The water washes away the limestone, which results in the formation of grottos. We took a bus to visit the most famous one of them – the Blue Grotto – once we got off the boat.

The Blue Grotto

We turned out to be very lucky: the Blue Grotto can be entered only forty days a year (at least, so we were told!), at low water, and we just made it before it closed for today. This is how this all worked: the bus drove us right up to the stairs running down to the water, where there was a myriad of row boats with rowers. We had to wait in a queue; then manage to climb into the row boat, which was not that easy at all; then sail on it to the floating box office and pay there; and then lie down on the boat floor, as the entrance to the cave was very low. We entered into absolute darkness, lit only with occasional camera flashes, and accompanied by many-voiced rendition of “O Sole Mio”. We understood why the cave was called blue only once we turned back: illuminated with the light coming through the inlet, the water and ceiling coving got an amazing blue colour.

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

After seeing the grotto, we were taken to the central square of Anacapri. Here our opinion differed with that of Larissa, who had been convincing us that there was nothing to see in Anacapri, and praising Capri – we actually liked Anacapri better, with its magnificent view from the observation deck and a lot of very nice shops. It seems that the symbol of the island is lemon: there are loads of lemon-related souvenirs; there is a lovely refreshing drink made of lemon juice with crushed ice  sold everywhere, and the crown of all is the famous limoncello liqueur. Unfortunately, we only had time to catch a glimpse of all this beauty, as most of the free time we were given was taken by lunch, which our guide Cecilia was so ardently advocating to have right there, that we thought she was receiving commission from the restaurant for referring clients.

View from Anacapri

Anacapri

Later we were taken down to Capri. Here we saw (from the distance) the house of the “stormy petrel of revolution” Gorky, and Cecilia told us that in 1907 he had been visited by Lenin here – there is even a monument to the latter in Capri (which, by the way, no one thought of destroying!). We were told that here is where he was planning the revolution.

Capri

Capri

Capri - Gorky

Monument to Lenin

How did we find Capri? Very cramped, too posh, bristling with villas and gorgeous boutiques with crazy prices. On the narrow roads of what is assumed to be the pedestrian zone there are electrocars constantly scurrying around – we have them in Sant’Angelo too, but there they are not flowing continuously and are therefore not so annoying.

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri - Shoemaker

By the way, all of this splendour functions only from April to October – in winter Capri becomes dormant, and any connection with Ischia stops. Therefore, as Cecilia said, most Ischians have never been to Capri – in summer they are employed in the tourism sector, and in the winter it’s difficult to get there (via Naples), and there is hardly anything to do as well.

If Anacapri was cool and pleasant, in Capri, despite the occasional drizzle, and perhaps because of it, it was very hot and humid. In this swelter we visited the Augusto Gardens and took numerous pictures of the famous Faraglioni rocks.  This stuffiness made the above mentioned lemon drink (la granita) the main highlight of the garden visit. Oh, Larissa, Larissa, we thought, this is where we should have been sitting on a terrace of some restaurant, staring at sauntering tourists and scurrying electrocars, instead of doing so in Anacapri, which instead was perfect for walking.

The drizzle finally ended with a magnificent rainbow that we saw on our way back.

Ischia Porto

Ischia (Casamicciola)

Ischia (Lacco Ameno)

Ischia

IMG_6567

Ischia

Ischian sky

Sant'Angelo - way back